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What is Bipolar Disorder and How Can We Help?

Have you ever cycled through a wide range of emotions and assumed it was a small case of mood swings? That’s certainly possible, but another explanation may be bipolar affective disorder (BPAD), a type of mood disorder that cycles between extreme depression and elevated mania for extended periods of time.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.6 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18. Bipolar disorder involves the cycling between mania and depression over weeks to months. Symptoms of mania might be decreased need for sleep (or lack of sleep), more energy, fast-paced talking, and more productivity. In some cases, it may lead to reckless behaviors that can result in consequences such as jail time. Signs of depression may include feelings of despair, sadness, hopelessness, a lack of energy, and changes in sleep cycle and appetite.

There are three main types of bipolar disorder that range from severe to mild.

“The three types are Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2, and Cyclothymic disorder,” says Austin Prince, psychiatric resident at Centerstone.

Bipolar 1 is the most severe type, with larger shifts between mania and depression. A manic episode lasts from a couple of weeks to months. After that, the person shifts, slowly or quickly, to a deep depressive episode for a couple of months.

Bipolar 2 is similar to Bipolar 1 with huge shifts in mood, but the symptoms of mania are less severe, while the symptoms of depression are just as severe as they are in Bipolar 1.

Cyclothymic disorder is the least severe type of BPAD, where the highs and lows are both less severe.

“In comparing all of the types of BPAD, cyclothymic is often missed because people often assume their mood swings are a feature of their personality,” says Dr. Prince.

Here are several ways to help individuals experiencing BPAD:

  • Treatment. Treatment can look different depending on when the person experiencing symptoms receives it. If they are having a manic episode or depressive episode, treatment may include psychotherapy along with mood-stabilizing medication to re-balance their mood.
  • Accountability. Educate yourself on the importance of medication adherence, and what the warning signs of non-adherence might look like. Encourage your friends and family with BPAD to stay consistent with treatment.
  • Schedule. One of the most important ways to manage BPAD is by keeping a daily schedule or consistent routine. It is helpful to schedule everything out, including sleep, self-care, exercise, and more.
  • Understanding. “If you have a family member or friend who is experiencing BPAD, try to understand and forgive them for behaviors that might be hurtful but that can be directly attributed to BPAD,” says Dr. Prince, “It is important to separate such behaviors from the person.”

Those who experience bipolar disorder might have challenges, but there are many options available to help them succeed and for community members to support them along the way.

If you or someone you know is experiencing low mood or struggling with their mental health, Centerstone can help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) for more information.

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